Read CHAPTER VI - Terry of An Anarchist Woman , free online book, by Hutchins Hapgood, on

Terry is a perfect type of the idealist. We shall see how, in the midst of what the world calls immorality and sordidness, this quality in him was ever present; even when it led to harshness to persons or facts. Not fitting into the world, his attitude toward it, his actions in it, and his judgment of it, are keen and impassioned, but, not fitting the actual facts, sometimes unjust and cruel. Tender and sensitive as a child, his indignation is so uncompromising that it often involves injustice and wrong. But the beauty in him is often startlingly pure, and reveals itself in unexpected conditions and environment. I cannot do better in an attempt to present him and his history than to quote voluminously from his letters to me, adding only what is necessary for the sake of clearness. He wrote for me the following poetic outline of his life:

“The fate of the immigrant, sprung from peasant stock, is to grow up in the slums and tenements of the great city. Such a fate was mine. To exchange the rack-rented but limitless fields of Irish landlordism for the rickety and equally rack-rented tenements, with the checkerboard streets, where all must keep moving, is only adding sordidness to spare sadness. Surely, the birthday’s injury is felt in a deep sense by the poor. But the patient fatalism of the peasant (so fatal to himself) is equal to every calamity.

“I came from an exceptionally well-to-do family of tenement-farmers, but a few generations of prolific birth rate, with the help of successive famines and successful landlordism, reduced us to the point of eviction. Enough was saved from the wreck to pay for our passage in a sailing vessel to America. After being successfully landed, or stranded, on New York, my father, with the true instinct of the peasant, became a squatter on the prairies of Goose Island. Here we put up, in the year 1864, a frame shanty of one room, in which the nine of us tried to live. My father, the only bread-winner, made from seven to eight dollars a week. Absolute communism in the deepest and most harmonious faithfulness prevailed. Truly, as Burns says:

’We had nae wish, save to be glad,
Nor want but when we thirsted;
We hated naught but to be sad.’

“I rejoice to say that I never got over this first blessed lesson in communism; even though it was on a small scale, the family contained the unity of a Greek tragedy. The heart that throbs with little things may finally throb for the world. And I learned nothing in these days except the lessons of the heart. The only necessary thing of which we had almost enough was bread. The struggle for existence, began on one continent, has continued on the other, with the surviving members of the family standing shoulder to shoulder for lack of room.

“Armed with a throbbing faith in everything but myself, I boldly and voluntarily entered the arena of commercial activity at the pliable age of eight. My first job away from home was in a mattress factory. Ah, that first job! I was a triumphant Archimedes who had found his fulcrum. I helped move the world, for twelve hours a day and for two dollars a week.

“Then and later, I, like all people who possess nothing, found that my best visions have come to me while at work on something in which I had wistful faith; and when I lost faith I blindly followed the economists and philosophers who can never know the mystic power of work over the worker. And it may be that herein lies the secret of the philosopher’s ignorance and the worker’s slavery. A man stands to his job because of the visions that come to him only when at work.

“Though I helped move the world, I was not an Atlas, and at last, I grew tired, for I found the world moved me out of all proportion to my capacity. Even at an early age, I found that I had not the heart for the fray. Stamped on my narrow forehead, on my whole being, perhaps, so clearly that every unsympathetic boss could understand at once, was the mark of the visionary. My pitiable willingness to work was truly tragic.

“We were an eccentric family, especially in our peculiar aloofness from others. We clung desperately to one another long after the necessity was past. Neither eviction nor commerce could disband us. Only marriage or death could separate us. Though we were Catholics on the surface, we were pagans at bottom. I had fed my fill on the fairy tales of Ireland. Fortunately, these fairy tales were told to me, not read, and told in such a way that they led me to seek no individual foothold in a world at war with my heart: they helped to take away what the world calls personal ambition. They strengthened my natural quality as a dreamer, my tendency to care only for the welfare of the soul. If I could bring about no change in this world, it should effect no alteration in me. This, as I grew older, became a conscious passion with me: not to allow myself to be affected by the world, or its ideals. Such was, at an early age, my romantic resolution. Now, as the colour in my hair begins to match the grey in my eyes, and I look back over the changes of almost half a century, I detect in the wreck of my life almost a harmony, and something rises above the ruins.

“On that frail foundation from fairy land my trembling imagination rested, even amid the sordid developments of my experience. How often did I take my youthful oath that the day should never come when I would out-grow my feeling for all the world! I have been put to the test, and, I hope, not found wanting.

“The end of my first ten years of life found me regretfully divesting myself, one by one, of my beloved folk-lore tales, and reverently folding them away, in preparation for the fray. I worked, during my second ten years, as a journeyman tanner and currier; knocked by fate and the boss from shop to shop and from town to town. I naturally sought solidarity with my fellows. Class feeling awoke in me, and voluntarily and enthusiastically I joined the union of my craft. Though I strained at its narrow confines, I was at one with my class. During the ’70’s and ’80’s the eight hour movement laid me off on several strikes, long and short. This enforced leisure was not idleness for me, for in these periods the world of science, art and philosophy shot their stray gleams into my startled mind, and I found time to ponder on what leisure might do for the mob. What did it not do for me, and what has it not done for me since? And I in the very ecstasy of my being was one of this mob.

“Whole hours, whole nights, I stole from my needed rest to read and ponder on our human fate. Sundays! Things after a day’s labour incomprehensible to my stunned brain were easily grasped on a glorious morning of religious leisure. The apathy of my fellows how well I understood it when, with nerves unstrung and muscles relaxed, after a tense twelve hours of toil, I fell asleep over my beloved books! And how well, too, I understood their amusement the appeal of the poor man’s club! when in gay carousal we tried to forget what we were. Even in the saloon and dance-hall we told tales of the shop! Oh, the irony of it! Was there no escape from the madness of the mart, no surcease from the frenzy of the factory or the shibboleth of the shop!

“Yes! How well I recall the gay transformation in my shop-mates when the whistle blew on Saturday night. The dullest and most morose showed intelligence then. The prospect of rest, be it ever so remote even in the hereafter roused them from their lethargy. How alert and cheerful we were on holidays, even the prolonged holiday of a strike brought its pinched joys. Quite a number of my ancient comrades of industry looked forward to the Poor House with a hopefulness born of thwarted toil. The luckiest ones out of the thousands whom I knew were those few who, overcome at last, could find some sheltering fireside and keep out of the way until nature laid them off for good; the living envied the dead.

“I took part in the famous bread riots of ’77, when I had to fly from the shop, before an infuriated mob armed with sticks, stones, pikes, and pitchforks. In the same year I saw from a distance the great battle of the viaduct, when the mob, armed as in the bread riots, faced the federal troops and were shot down and dispersed. It was about this time, too, that I stood by as the ‘Lehr und Wehr Verein’ in their blue blouses of toil and shouldered rifles strode ominously onward. These men were the first fruits in America of Bakunin’s ideals and work in Europe. They, too, were put down, by an act of legislature.

“These proletarian protagonists whipped me into a fury. My father, too, had his rifle, and when drunk he invoked it, as it hung on the wall, thus: ’Come down, my sweet rifle, how brightly you shine! What tyrant dare stifle that sweet voice of thine.’ But my father was only a Fenian revolutionist; and as it was only a step for me from Ireland to Internationalism, I was soon beyond his creed.

“We had come to America during war times, with the spirit of revolt already germinating within us; and although we were against slavery, our sympathies were with the South. We were natural as well as political democrats, and even when the mob was in the wrong, I always became one of it. How finely elemental, how responsive to the best and the worst, is the mob when the crisis comes!

“Although my thoughts were forming through my readings and the larger events about me, the everyday life in the shop was perhaps the deepest cause of my growing revolt. The atmosphere of the frenzied factory is well calculated to produce a spirit of sullen and smouldering rebellion in the minds of its less hardened inmates. From the domineering boss down to the smallest understrapper, the spirit of the jailer and turnkey is dominant. Much worse than solitary confinement is it to be sentenced to ten hours of silence and drudgery. The temptation to speak to the man at your side is well nigh irresistible. But to speak means to be marked, to have hurled at you a humiliating reprimand, or, as a last resort, to be discharged.

“No lunching between meals is allowed, although it is a well-known fact that few workers have the appetite at dawn to eat sufficient food to last them till their cold lunch at noon. From this comes the terrible habit, among the older toilers, of the eye-opener, a gulp of rot-gut whiskey, taken to arouse the sleeping stomach and force sufficient food on it to last till noon. As a convalescent victim of this proletarian practice I am well aware of its ravages on body and mind. It is the will-of-the-wisp of false whiskey followed by false hope, leading into the fogs and bogs of the bourgeois and the quicksands of the capitalist.

“To be a moment late, means to be docked and to have it rubbed in by an insult. To take a day off, well death is taken as an excuse. There is no such thing in a shop as social equality between boss and men. In my last position as foreman I had charge of three hundred men. Many of them were faithful comrades in many a brave strike, where starvation pressed hard, whence they had emerged with hollow cheeks and undaunted hearts. I soon came to know them all, personally, intimately, and liked them all, though I felt most strangely drawn to those who worked for one dollar a day. They all did their work faithfully, and there was no complaint from the front office. One day, however, the owner charged me with treating the hands as if they were my equals. I tried to make him see the human justification of it, but he would have none of it. He was a typical boss and also a millionaire banker.

“It was about this time that I discovered the deepest tonic my nerves have ever known. The explosion of the Haymarket bomb found a responsive chord, the vibrations of which will never cease in me, I hope. The unconscious in me was at last released, and I held my mad balance on the crater’s edge and gazed into it. Hereafter, I was to live on dangerous ground, at least in thought. No more doubt, no more shuffling now. I must try the chords of my heart, the sympathy of my soul, in open rebellion. The iniquities of civilisation had ruined a fine barbarian in me, and almost made of me a maudlin miscreant, willing to hang upon the skirts of a false society. The Haymarket bomb made me strip again and for a nobler fray.

“Of what avail was it, I reflected, to raise one’s voice in the wilderness of theories? How do any good by a social enthusiasm merely expressed in theory? Such thin cerebral structures are shattered to pieces in the ordeal of life. Ah, but this anonymous Avatar, this man with the bomb! His instinct was right, but how far short it fell, and must always fall. He had settled the strife within him and become definite to himself: that was all he had done. I too must settle the strife within me. I was plunged into prolonged dreams from which I was aroused by hunger, hunger of many kinds, and driven into my former haunt, the shop.

“But now, when I stripped for work in the factory and donned my vestments of toil, I stood forth without falsehood. I knew, if not what I was, at least what I wanted, rather what I did not want. I did not want this, this society!

“Each morning as I took my place in the shop I had the feeling of my boyhood as if I were celebrating a High Mass before the sacrifice of another day. There was much of the Pontifical in me, for I was a rapt radical. Each morning on my way to Commercial Calvary I saw another sacrifice; I overtook small shrivelled forms, children they were, by the dim dawn. How their immature coughings racked my heart and gave me that strange tightening of the chest! I could not keep my eyes from the ground whence came the sound of small telltale splashes, after each cough. Many times I stopped to hold a child who was vomiting.

“Here was a woe too deep for tears; and I must look with dry eyes or I should fail to see. Have you ever noticed the searching dry gaze of the poor? It is like the seeing, wistful look of a child which few can bear without flinching. I had no need to read Dante’s imaginary ‘Inferno.’ I was living in a real one which made all imagination seem trivial. ’The short and simple annals of the poor’ seems like poetry, but only superficially, for it is not truth, but a fiction. It is false, for the annals of the aristocracy are not so long, neither are they so complex.

“I am not trying to plead for anything. I am trying merely to express. Prepared for everything, I have forgiven everything, even myself. Everything that could happen has happened to me, perhaps the worst that happened did not come from without, but from within. My family came off safely enough from the fray of the factory. Only two of us were maimed for life and five claimed for death out of a family of eleven. That left half a dozen for the statistician to figure on.”

Terry, a transcendental poet, who worked in the shop for many years, had quit it some time before he met Marie. The above letter shows, in a general way, the mood which finally brought about his social self-exile, so to speak. The letter which follows gives a specific instance of the kind of experience which disgusted the idealist with the imperfect world. He had been living against society, had foregathered with outcasts and had thrown down the gauntlet generally to organised society, for some years, but he still from time to time worked at some job or other. An incident happening some years after the meeting with Marie, which is still to be described, is sufficiently typical of what finally threw him entirely out from society to be truthfully illustrative at this point.

“I was keeping open house for all comers, regardless of law or order, morality or money. I wished to hurl myself and my theories to the test, and gauntlet my defiance to a withered world. It was a happy time, looked back on now as a dream, in which, however, there was an undertone of nightmare. We had three little rooms up many mild flights of unbalustered stairs. Our main furniture consisted of mattresses which, like morning clouds, were rolled away when the sun arose.

“For the shocking salary of six dollars a week I was collector for the Prudential Insurance company. One rent day I lacked the necessary four dollars and a half. I telegraphed my other ego, my dear brother Jim, in Pittsburg. The same day brought from him a telegraph money-order for twenty-five dollars, and soon afterward a letter asking me to go to Pittsburg and help him out. I had always been deemed an expert in the leather line, especially in locating anything wrong in the various processes. My brother was a member of a new millionaire leather firm, which was losing thousands of dollars every week because they were unable to locate the weakness in the process. Jim wanted me to find the flaw.

“It was with the utmost repugnance that I quit my happy slum life, but I loved Jim, and it was the call of the ancient clan in my blood. When I arrived in Pittsburg, without a trunk, and with other marks of the proletarian on me, Mr. Kirkman, the millionaire tanner, showered me with every luxury every luxury except that of thought and true emotion. Never before did I realise so intensely my indifference to what money can buy. My private office in the shop was stocked with wines and imported cigarettes: but I was not so well off as in my happy slum.

“I toiled like a sleepless sisyphus, and one day, in a flash of intuition, I located and showed the flaw in an obscure process; I was completely successful.

“I had put no price on my services. For Jim’s sake, I had worked like a Trojan, physically and mentally, for a month. With unlimited money at my disposal, I had drawn only twenty dollars altogether, and this I sent to Marie, to keep the wolf away from the Rogues’ Gallery, our flat.

“When the factory was running smoothly, I told Mr. Kirkman that I would break in a man for my place. He made me a tempting offer to take full charge of the shop. I told him I would not be a participant in exploiting his ‘hands,’ who were getting only $7 to $8 a week. Furthermore, I said I would not stand for the discharge of any man for incompetency. I had never in the shop met any man I could not teach and learn something from in return; I had never discharged a man, and never would. The millionaire boss nevertheless continued to urge me to take the position, and my brother Jim offered me two thousand dollars’ worth of stock at par and a large yearly salary. Well, I suppose, there’s no use of anybody’s trying to move me when Jim has failed.

“I quit Pittsburg with nothing but the price of a ticket to Chicago, though my brother told me the firm would send me a check for $500 or $1,000 for my services as an expert. When, with a beating heart, I returned to my dear Rogues’ Gallery, all was change and dispersion. No more happy times in our little balcony of fellowship, which had overlooked in its irresponsibility the jarring sects and insects of this world: the most delightful place in this world to me is a home without a boss, and this home was for the time gone. The possibility of being unfair to Marie makes me draw a veil over the cause of the breaking-up of the Rogues’ Gallery.

“Poor Jim found that the firm would not pay me a cent for my really brilliant month’s work, for the reason that I had refused to be a conventional boss and had no written or verbal contract or agreement. Jim therefore resigned, forfeiting fifty dollars of weekly salary and twenty-five thousand dollars in stock, ten thousand of which he had offered me to stay. Mr. Kirkman thought all the world of Jim and could not run the shop without him. Nor could he recover from the blow, for he loved my brother, as everybody did. Mr. Kirkman died a few weeks afterward, and after a year or two the firm went into the hands of a receiver. All this happened because of a few paltry dollars, which I did not ask for, for which I did not care a damn and this is business! I heartily rejoice, if not in Mr. Kirkman’s death, at least in the dispersion of his family and their being forced into our ranks, where there is some hope for them.

“My brother Jim was one of the maimed ones in my family. Twenty years ago, defective machinery and a surgeon’s malpractice made one arm useless. The Pittsburg affair broke up his beautiful home. He and his whole-souled wife and charming children, into whose eyes it was an entrancing rapture for me to look, were a family without a boss; they needed none, for they loved one another perfectly. Jim is dead now, and the best I can do is to send you his last letter; it has the brevity of grief:

“’I have no explanation to offer for my silence, more than a feeling which possessed me shortly after my arrival here a desire to be considered a dead one, and am doing all but the one thing that will make my wish a reality. I am long tired of the game, and only continue to play because of the hardships my taking off would cause those who at present are not able to care for themselves. A way out of it would be to take them along, but I think if the matter were put before them, they would decline my proffered service; and take a chance as half-orphans. You calling up our boyhood days in “Little Hell” makes me question still further if I have any right to deny those dear to me the delights that only the young can feel and enjoy. I made a great mistake in coming to this Ohio town. The chase for dollars which I am performing here seven days every week is very disgusting to me, and every day only adds to the pangs. I am out all day selling goods, pleading for trade and collecting for former weeks’ business; and in the evening I must do the necessary office work. Every day is the same, except Sunday, when I make up the book-keeping for the whole week and prepare statements and the like, to begin the usual round on Monday morning. It is a hell of a life and I wish it were done. I have some consolation in being able to call up at will those that I love. I have many a waking dream, while tramping the hills, about the comrades that have added to the joys of my former existence. Let me hear from you occasionally, because a letter from you seems to revive some of the old feeling that formerly made life passable.’

“I suppose I shall recover in time from Jim’s death. I wish I could have been with him when he died. During his last half-unconscious moments the nurse proposed to send for a priest. Jim’s soul must have made a last effort, for raising himself erect, he flung these words: ’I hire no spiritual nurse,’ and then asked his daughter of fourteen to bring him a volume of Emerson and read to him. When she returned with the book, he was gone.

“Of course, the doctor and all the wise ones have diagnosed Jim’s case. But I think he sized up his case in that letter I sent you. He died of that great loneliness of soul which made of his wasted body a battered barricade against the stupidity which finally engulphed him. The soul of social and individual honour and commercial integrity, he had the misfortune to find few like himself. He yearned for the ideal; and I am sure he went down with that hope for humanity. Let us trust that there is an ever increasing number of human beings who have Jim’s malady ’seekers after something in this world, that is there in no satisfying measure, or not at all.’ If this letter seems boisterously blue, remember it is only the sullen marching of the black sap preceding the unfurling of the emerald banners of spring, when all things break into a ‘shrill green.’”